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Greece's political deadlock continues as coalition talks fail

May 14, 2012 |  4:51 am

Greece entered a second week without a government as the leader of a hard-line leftist party, which seeks to tear up the country's international bailout agreements and their related austerity measures, pulled out of talks to form a coalition leadership, upping the chances of a repeat round of elections next month
ATHENS -- Greece entered a second week without a government Monday as the leader of a hard-line leftist party, which seeks to tear up the country's international bailout agreements and their related austerity measures, pulled out of talks to form a coalition leadership, upping the chances of a repeat round of elections next month.

The breakdown in the talks accentuated fears that the political deadlock gripping Greece may be setting up the cash-strapped country for a possible exit from the European single currency. Stock markets across Europe were sharply down Monday morning.

Despite repeated overtures, Alexis Tsipras, the brash and charismatic leader of the anti-austerity party Syriza -- the surprise second-place finisher in the May 6 general election -- refused to join a national unity government Sunday. Tsipras also snubbed an invitation by the Greek President Karolos Papoulias to participate in more talks Monday.

"Syriza will not betray the Greek people and the mandate it received from them," Tsipras, a 37-year-old former student protest leader, told cheering crowds after his walkout from the crisis talks. "We will not become accomplices to the crimes" of Greece's austerity policies.

Tsipras' refusal to resume negotiations seriously handicaps Papoulias' bid to cut the Gordian knot of Greece's political stalemate. Papoulias was forced to reach out Monday to Fotis Kouvelis, the moderate leftist leader of the Democratic Alliance party, to try to form a coalition government of conservatives and socialists.

But Kouvelis has said his party would not be part of a government that did not include Syriza, making the prospect of another election, probably on June 17, much more likely.

Still, "a deal could happen," Angelos Stangos, a political analyst with the Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini, told Skai television. "The question is whether the coalition to emerge will be viable and strong enough to face up to further austerity in store."

A meeting between Papoulias and various party leaders is scheduled for Monday evening.

Heavily reliant on multibillion-dollar bailouts since 2010, Greece has promised to make an additional $14 billion in budget cuts by June. Failure to do so would jeopardize the rescue loans keeping the country afloat, the country's creditors have repeatedly warned.

Although polls indicate that about 77% of Greeks want their country to remain in the Eurozone, nearly seven in 10 voters cast their ballots in support of smaller, anti-austerity parties, spurning the two mainstream conservative and socialist parties that have dominated politics here for decades.

Syriza won 16.8% of the May 6 vote. With two polls indicating that the party would increase its share in a repeat election next month, Tsipras has little incentive to rein in his rhetoric and his promise to renege on Greece's bailout deals. But even then, Syriza is not expected to win an outright majority in Parliament, which would prolong Greece's political crisis.

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-- Anthee Carassava

Photo: Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the hard-line anti-austerity party Syriza, leaves the Greek presidential palace Sunday after unsuccessful talks on building a coalition government. Credit: Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP/Getty Images

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